The findings of a recent report from The Conference Board— a think tank examining the future developments and issues facing businesses across multiple industries—confirmed the reverse of a multi-decade trend in the U.S. job market: blue-collar workers are now scarcer than white-collar workers. Additionally, the report forecasted that blue-collar labor shortages will continue to increase in 2019 and beyond.
So how can companies cope?
In the second quarter 2019 issue of MHI Solutions magazine, “The Supply Chain Shift Toward Technology: How It’s Impacting Companies’ Workforce Talent Strategies,” a number of interviewed experts agree that there’s on one approach, but rather a spectrum of strategies being employed across a variety of operations.
Gad Levanon, lead report author and The Conference Board’s Chief Economist for North America, suggests: “Increasing pay is the most obvious answer, because it not only helps keep your workers, but gives you a greater opportunity to recruit workers from other companies. But that’s not always the most popular choice.”
Other options include lowering educational requirements, providing in-house training, relocating to different areas with a more available and accessible workforce, and expanding the diversity among the pools of potential candidates—such as how the trucking and transportation industries have been working to attract women to jobs previously dominated by men—he adds.
Another strategy, says Jeff Christensen, Vice President of Product at Seegrid, is to be more flexible in job descriptions and required qualifications: “Whatever job you hire for is going to change; that means companies need to find people with the ability and propensity to adapt to those changes.”
Christensen says the ideal worker brings “T-shaped” education and experience, meaning both a breadth of knowledge across multiple domains, as well as a depth of knowledge in a single area of expertise.
“The breadth across many domains allows someone to make connections across different people, roles and technologies to see the bigger picture, and then to apply that input to the objectives and tasks within his or her area,” he says. “That degree of adaptability is already becoming incredibly important.”
De’Onn Griffin, Senior Research Director and Analyst with Gartner, notes that increasing use of technology is having a significant impact on talent, the way companies plan for talent, and the entire employee lifecycle.
Notably, Griffin says that corporate spending on employee training has increased significantly: “Usually, training is the last place companies invest. But over the last three to five years, we’ve seen increasingly higher investment in learning at the expense of other areas—which is totally abnormal.”
Among the reasons for that, she continues, is that with technology itself changing so rapidly the skills attained by last June’s computer science graduate, for example, will likely become antiquated within a year. That recognition is prompting companies to invest in keeping their employees’ skills fresh.
Additionally, according to Dr. Randy Bradley, Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, companies are coping with the supply chain technology shift by placing more emphasis on what he calls “the digital quotient.”
“Meaning, are they attracting a talent base that is comfortable with digital and emerging technologies, both externally and internally,” he explains. “If they can’t find the outside talent to hire, they’re taking a closer look at resident talent to identify who has the potential or interest in becoming proficient with these technologies.”
Since these days the best of both worlds is rarely found in a single individual, companies are employing a technique Bradley calls “reverse mentoring,” wherein a person with a digital, technical skillset (typically younger) is paired with a person (typically older) who has both expertise and depth of knowledge in the business.
Increasingly as well, companies are establishing partnerships with their local technical schools and community colleges to essentially create their own labor pool, says Dr. Bill Ferrell, Fluor International Supply Chain Professor and Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Clemson University.
“These organizations recognize that the only way they’re going to get the people they need is to invest in and help develop the curriculum at two-year schools, and provide experiences in their plants that support the needs of the employers in the area,” he says, noting that from a company’s perspective, the relationship enables them to influence the skills being taught.
Students also benefit, adds Ferrell, because they’re learning relevant skills that will ensure them a job locally and be valid for a given period of time.
A similar trend is occurring between corporations and universities, reports Thomas Boykin, Supply Chain and Network Operations Specialist Leader with Deloitte Consulting LLP.
“Over the last six years, we’ve definitely seen the most progressive, leading companies increasingly become involved with the universities within their regions,” he says. “They’re seizing every opportunity to raise their visibility among the student body and on the campus so they have a higher success rate when they go to recruit there.”
Want to learn more about the different ways companies are combating workforce shortages? Read the full article by clicking here.